What’s So Bad About Refined Sugar?

Yesterday I shared how natural sugar is a good thing for diets. But just because that kind of sugar is good, it doesn’t mean that every kind of sugar is good. In fact, refined sugar is very bad for the human body. Yet it’s found in so many products.

Refined sugar, also known as sucrose, is added to many products like soda pop, baked goods, cereals, ketchup, salad dressings, and processed maple syrup. Chances are, if you look at the ingredients list on most kinds of processed foods, you’ll find “sugar” or “corn syrup” listed.


But what exactly is so bad about refined sugar?

On average, an American consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. 1 

Besides adding 355 calories to your diet each day, you’re less likely to eat healthy foods when you feel full of sugary stuff. The sugar alone won’t cause you to gain weight, but most likely the foods that include refined sugar will.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “people who ate the largest amounts of added sugar had the highest blood triglyceride levels and the lowest HDL (good) cholesterol levels. … In contrast, people who ate the least sugar had the lowest triglyceride levels and highest HDL levels, a protective factor against heart disease.” 2

Robert Lustig, the leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, has boldly asserted that sugar – including both sucrose AND high fructose corn syrup – is a toxin.

Researchers are trying to pinpoint conclusive evidence that sugar fuels different kinds of cancers as well as hypertension and heart disease. 3

Scientists also are trying to prove that sugar is addictive – some have determined it’s as addictive as cocaine. 4

Based on the way I crave sugary foods when I eat sugary foods, I completely relate to the addictive qualities. The rest of the unhealthy suspicions of sugar are scary enough to make me try to curb my consumption.

High fructose corn syrup vs. sucrose

If you’ve looked at food labels, you may have noticed that many have started to advertise “No high fructose corn syrup.” However, when you examine the ingredient lists, there’s a good chance that sugar is listed as an ingredient. That sugar is sucrose – white and/or brown beet and/or cane sugar.

What’s the difference between high fructose corn syrup and sucrose?

Gary Taubes explained in his New York Times article, “Is Sugar Toxic?”:

“Refined sugar (that is, sucrose) is made up of a molecule of the carbohydrate glucose, bonded to a molecule of the carbohydrate fructose — a 50-50 mixture of the two. The fructose, which is almost twice as sweet as glucose, is what distinguishes sugar from other carbohydrate-rich foods like bread or potatoes that break down upon digestion to glucose alone. The more fructose in a substance, the sweeter it will be.

High-fructose corn syrup, as it is most commonly consumed, is 55 percent fructose, and the remaining 45 percent is nearly all glucose. It was first marketed in the late 1970s and was created to be indistinguishable from refined sugar when used in soft drinks.

Because each of these sugars ends up as glucose and fructose in our guts, our bodies react the same way to both, and the physiological effects are identical.”

No matter if it’s high fructose corn syrup or plain old refined white or brown sugar, it’s not healthy for you or your family.

What’s next?

If too much sucrose and high fructose corn syrup harm a body, is there a way to avoid them? Tomorrow I’ll include a list of sugars to avoid on ingredient lists. And I’ll explain unrefined sugar options next Monday and Tuesday.

What steps have you taken to reduce sugar in your diet? What has been the easiest part of the process? What has been the most difficult part?

1. “The Truth About Sugar.” Katherine Kam. WebMD.
2. “The Truth About Sugar.” Katherine Kam. WebMD.
3. “Is Sugar Toxic?” Gary Taubes. New York Times. April 13, 2011.
Is Sugar Toxic?” Sanjay Gupta. 60 Minutes. April 1, 2012.
4. “Is Sugar Toxic?” Sanjay Gupta. 60 Minutes. April 1, 2012.
The Truth About Sugar.” Katherine Kam. WebMD.
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Suat Eman/Free DigitalPhotos.net
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Hilary Kimes Bernstein is a Christ follower, wife, mama, and journalist. She writes about making healthy decisions that honor God and happen to help the environment at Accidentally Green. Short and sweet - like her writing - Hilary is the author of several healthy living eBooks.

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